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Monday, Jul. 16, 2007 at 3:01 pm

Should Marketers Get a Second Life, or a First One?

By Robert Gorell
July 16th, 2007

A lot has been written about Second Life over the past few days, mostly because it seems marketers are fleeing the popular online community in droves. After a mad rush by large brands to plant their flag in Second Life, folks like CenterNetworks‘ Allen Stern are questioning whether the virtual world really needs a “Ben & Jerry’s Island.”

We spent most of the session on the “Ben & Jerry’s” island. During the session, we were able to fly around, look at a wall of the history of B&J, and chat with other people. Wait, that was one person during the entire 30 minute session. I asked what it cost to create the island and Don nodded when I suggested $50k.

Don also noted that we are only in the first inning of virtual worlds. I agree with his statement. It reminds me a bit of when the Web first started to commercialize. “Who would use the Web to buy insurance” is a statement I heard several times from an executive at an insurance company.

Technovia‘s Ian Batteridge has a similar take, writing that:

. . . the approach that most corporates have taken with Second Life has been the same as they took with the early web “We must have a Second Life presence! Build it and people will come!”

But SL isn’t static media, and that, unfortunately, means that the static media approaches you can take with a web page won’t work. SL isn’t a medium which is suitable for researching information unless that information is best communicated via 3D models. A museum might profit from simply building an island and waiting for people to come – a corporate won’t.

On face value, I agree with both Stern and Batteridge. But they raise an interesting point: If those marketing on Second Life are using prehistoric Web tactics — i.e., stuff from the broadcast or “push” marketing playbook, left over from the old media days – why in the proverbial world might they work in a virtual one? This is uncharted territory to be sure, but wouldn’t product placement and viral promotions among Second Life, er, citizens make more sense than paying $50k to setup shop just to say that you’re kinda, almost, virtually there?

Ah-ha… the plot thickens! Over at WebInkNow, David Meerman Scott* tells us of a staffing company that’s paying real money to Second Life temps. Might these virtual folks end up staffing the virtual islands, thus creating a real economy? And does virtual ice cream taste any good? Like “astronaut ice cream” perhaps?

For now, I’m skeptical. But there’s a lesson here for all of us: Before pushing a new online presence, make sure you know what success really means in advance. Otherwise, those virtual islands might leave your company a bit… shipwrecked.

[*For those who missed it, don't forget to check out my recent interview with David Meerman Scott on his fantastic book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR.]

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Comments (8)

  1. Hey Robert,

    As marketers, we should be where our potential customers are. If customers are on Facebook, we should be too. If they are in Second Life, we should be too. The problem is when marketers take an advertising approach to these media. Banner ads in Facebook and unpopulated vanity islands in SL are just like billboards on the side of the road, they make you feel good but are they effective?.

    But what Randstad is doing is pretty cool — they are extending their offline business (2,500 staffing offices around the world) to fulfill a need of their clients to staff their SL operations.

    Take care,

    David

  2. David,

    You nailed it. Being there for its own sake seems to mean very little without a strategy for engaging customers. Second Life has a lot of potential, but nothing turns off a niche or destroys a sense of community faster than commercialism that seems out of place. Perhaps instead of “build it and they will come,” the social media monetization mantra should be “provide value and they just might come, although they may not, but if they do, you’ll be a hit.”

    Doesn’t have the same ring to it, I know. ;)

  3. The ‘fleeing’ might be something of an exaggeration. There are definitely still more moving in than moving out. Others have left previously and made little noise about their departure.

    I agree in every respect, Robert, except one. Second Life already has a real economy. For all that it is artificial and relies on the motion of virtual tokens, you could say that of any established economy.

  4. Tateru,

    You make a great point. Still, its economy is unproven since it’s so young and, from what I’ve read, it seems to be trending down, not up. Of course, that doesn’t mean the medium is broken; perhaps it’s self-correcting from an influx of companies with no Second Life business model, as it were. Like David said, it’s essentially a billboard for such companies.

    It really is an amazing social experiment, but it’s unclear as to how long it will last. But… worse has been said of the US and its economy before. :)

  5. It’s baby steps for this generation of virtual worlds, really. They’re getting ready for their first day of school, and we’re all arguing about which one will graduate best in their class in college.

    Each of the platforms has issues to sort out – they’re certainly far from perfect.

    On the marketing/brand issues, I’ve written a small series of pieces over time: http://www.secondlifeinsider.com/tag/PracticalMarketing

  6. Robert,

    Remember Pong? Pacman? (The first early video games). The games just got much, much better. Now 30 years later think what PacMan has led to.

    Now consider Second Life is an early stage virtual community. Imagine 20 or 30 years from now. We can’t even grasp the possibilityies. For example, imagine a mashup of a Webinar tool like WebEx with a virtual world like Second Life.

    SL is just the start. Marketers will need to follow the new worlds as they develop.

    David

  7. Tateru,

    Thanks for introducing us to your blog. Looks like a great resource for anyone marketing on SL. (Love some of those post titles, by the way!)

    David,

    Absolutely. I just wonder if SL will be the eventual format for virtual worlds. Clearly, there’s a huge market for virtual worlds, and it’s got to be far broader than any of us can imagine right now. It makes me think of Jeff Bezos’s TED presentation from 2003 (for those who haven’t seen it, it’s well worth the 17 minutes).

  8. Very interesting. I started a company about 6 months ago as life insurance brokers (please click the link to see the website and let me know what you think) and it is very intersting to think in terms of a new virtual world for advertising. It would be very cheap to market a brand in that environment compared to the ‘real world’. Provided enough people used this medium it could be quite successeful to build a brand (but probably not to sell directly), does anyone know the usage stats?

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